Oh, The Irony-Breastfeeding in Public

This week, a nursing mother said was harassed and was asked repeatedly to cover herself up, while nursing her 5 month old son, while on vacation at Elitch Gardens, in Denver.

Here is Kristin’s  account of the incident as she posted it on parenting Web site www.mothering.com:

Harassed at Elitch Gardens for public breastfeeding

I am on vacation with my family- 5 of us including mom and dad. We went to Elitch Gardens Theme Park in Denver, CO (Formerly Six Flags).  

I was nursing my 5 month old son by the side of the wave pool in the water park. I was in the section with the plastic lounge chairs where food is allowed, not right in the water. I was approached by a park security guard who told me that complaints had been made and that I would have to breastfeed elsewhere or cover up; go to the restrooms and nurse or use a towel.

I stated that by Colorado state law, I am allowed to breastfeed my child anywhere public or private that he is allowed to be. At this point another security guard got involved and was more adamant that I go elsewhere and it is just “common sense” to cover up or be elsewhere. I repeatedly stated colorado breastfeeding law and informed them that I was not going anywhere or covering up (he hates being covered up), could they please stop harassing me and let me feed my child. He stated they would kick me out of the park for this. I stated that I paid for the tickets and was not going anywhere as I was not breaking any posted park rules.

At this point my child was getting more and more upset because I was having a hard time focusing on holding him and helping him latch on properly. This conversation progressed until my son was screaming very loudly at the top of his lungs and I was visibly shaking and upset. I did start to get louder but managed to keep my temper despite my child crying. I did however start crying too and begged them to leave me be. They called a supervisor over to talk to me. At this point my husband had come back from playing with the other children in the wave pool and I asked him to back me up and keep them away from me so I could nurse my child as he was screaming. He proceeded to state them the same law repeatedly.

They then left me alone for a few minutes and returned shortly later with two Denver Police officers. I continued the basic same conversation with them and then let my husband talk to them, but the supervisor continued to harass me thro this entire thing. He kept stating it was “common sense” to do what he wanted me to do and I kept stating Colorado Law and stating that I had no such social taboo ingrained in me about breastfeeding in public and it was his personal opinion that it is common sense.

My husband kept trying to get them to stop talking to me so I could feed my child, and I was finally able to feed my child and he fell asleep. I then pulled my swimsuit back up and rocked him a bit. The Denver Police then informed me that if I breastfed in public in the park again, they would arrest me for trespassing as the park would want to kick me out. I politely told him to do what you have to do but I know my rights. I stayed in the water park section until the baby woke up and then left to try to enjoy the rest of the day away from the frightening guards. (as a note, it was the woman next to me who had complained and she proceeded to berate me for about 10 minutes. I repeatedly told her very calmly and politely “Thank you for your opinion. Have a nice day”, until she stopped talking to me.)

I am ashamed to admit that I did feed my child next in a more secluded part of the park later as I did not want to get arrested and ruin my family’s vacation, although it was still in a public area. It makes me shake and cry when I think of my treatment and how I had to hide just to feed my child. It made me feel like a criminal. I am going to look into suing the park so that others in the future will not be subjected to the same traumatizing ordeal. Maybe the park can setup some positive breastfeeding policy.

I will also be posting to a number of forums such as Mothering.com to inform others of my situation, maybe organize a boycott or nurse-in. Thank you for listening. I would appreciate any feedback you have or any info you have as to legal or other recourse that I may take that would be most effective in changing Elitch Gardens actions against breastfeeding in public.

Kristin Skrydlak-Simlai

 I find this incident terribly ironic- in that where it happened, there are probably no less than hundreds of women of all ages, walking around in swimsuits / bikinis that expose more of the breast than what a mother breastfeeding her baby would show.  Of course, I don’t know how much of her breast was ‘exposed’ but I wonder if the lady who was so offended, asked all the women who were in skimpy swimsuits to cover up as well? 

According the Elitch spokesperson, (from 9News story http://www.9news.com/news/article.aspx?storyid=72030) she said the “park allows breastfeeding, but they ask breastfeeding mother’s to respect the comfort level of other guests of the park.”

The lady organizing the nurse in, Tirzha Zabarauskas, said in respond to this statement, “I am sure being at a water park there were other women in bikinis who were not asked to cover themselves up or leave the park.”

I have to agree with her on this point- if you have been swimming lately at any public swimming place, the swimsuits really don’t leave much to the imagination- between tops that barely, and I mean, barely cover anything, and thong bottoms, it seems ridiculous that someone would have the audacity to complain that a NURSING MOTHER, FEEDING HER BABY, was offensive.

How many other boobs did this lady see, flopping around in skimpy bathing suits that day?  Did she complain about those?  Did she complain about the butts hanging out of the thong bikini bottoms?  Did the guards and police, stop the people in reveling bathing suits, and tell them to use some “common sense” and cover up?

It is just pure ignorance that in this day and age, with all the benefits of breastfeeding, that a nursing mother gets treated this way, especially when it is in a water park, with hundreds, probably thousands of other women in swimming suits, no doubt exposing some part of their breasts.

Our society doesn’t have a problem with showing breasts when it is in a commercial, walking down the street, at Hooters, or at the beach, pool, or water park- the problem is when a woman chooses to use her breasts for what they were designed for- feeding her baby.  For some reason, we have a huge problem with that, and have to resort to making the mother feel bad, dirty, ashamed, and like she did something wrong.

I hope Elitch Gardens works with this mother to ensure this never happens again to another nursing mother.  There is a nurse-in scheduled at the park tomorrow, but after reading some comments from Jennifer, at The Lactivist blog, she has some good reasons, why nurse-in’s probably aren’t the most effective first steps to take. 

In the meantime, the only thing I think we can all do to make a difference is nurse, nurse, nurse, in public.  The more people see us doing what nature intended for our babies, the more it will become more common place, and hopefully these incidents will stop happening.